China’s increasingly powerful navy launched its most advanced domestically produced destroyer on June 28, at a time of rising competition with other naval powers such as the United States, Japan, and India.
The first 10,000-ton Type 055 entered the water at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard on June 28, the navy said in a news release.
It said the ship is equipped with the latest air, missile, ship, and submarine defense systems. China is believed to be planning to launch four of the ships.
“The launch of this ship signifies that our nation’s development of destroyers has reached a new stage,” the release said.
A photo on the Chinese Navy’s website showed multicolored streamers being shot out of tubes while sailors and shipyard workers stood dockside next to a massive Chinese flag. It said chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Armaments Department Zhang Youxia presided over the ceremony, in which a bottle of champagne was broken over the ship’s bow.
The Type 055 is significantly larger than China’s other modern destroyer, the Type 052, representing the rising sophistication of China’s defense industries. Once heavily dependent on foreign technology, China in April launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own, based on an earlier Ukrainian model.
In terms of displacement, it is roughly equivalent to the Arleigh Burke class of destroyer.
China’s navy is undergoing an ambitious expansion and is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines, and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Naval Analysis. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the US Navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific, although the once-yawning gap between the two is narrowing rapidly.
China says it needs a powerful navy to defend its 14,500 kilometers (9,010 miles) of coastline, as well as its crucial maritime shipping routes.
However, it also appears increasingly willing to challenge actions by the US — long the region’s pre-eminent military power — especially in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
Beijing has also long nurtured resentment against Japan over its past invasion of China, and their dispute over a group of tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea has at times threatened to break out into open confrontation.
India, meanwhile, also shares a disputed border with China and has grown increasingly concerned over the Chinese navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean, facilitated in part by Beijing’s close alliance with New Delhi’s arch rival Pakistan.
The M2 .50 caliber machine gun has been in production longer than any other, and it’s easy to see why troops love it.
Since the 1930s, “Ma Deuce” has been serving troops on the ground, in vehicles, and in aircraft, and with its effectiveness and reliability, it doesn’t look like this weapon is going out of style any time soon. Originally developed during World War I by John Browning, the weapon is now in the hands of U.S. troops and a number of NATO allies.
The M2 .50 cal has served troops well in Iraq and Afghanistan as a fearsome automatic weapon usually mounted to vehicles.
But it was just as deadly in Normandy in 1944 …
… As it is overlooking remote bases in Afghanistan today.
With a belt-fed .50 BMG round, it packs serious punch that can effectively hit targets out to 1,800 meters.
The weapon can fire a variety of ammunition types, such as standard ball, blanks, armor-piercing (AP), armor-piercing incendiary (API), armor-piercing incendiary tracer (APIT) …
… And the crowd favorite: Saboted Light Armor Penetrator (SLAP), which can bust through steel.
Troops can find the .50 cal everywhere from the perimeter of the forward operating base …
Once it’s ready to go, soldiers place the rounds on the feed tray, make sure the cover is closed, and pull the bolt to the rear to load the weapon.
Then it’s ready to rock and roll. The .50 can fire in single shot or fully automatic mode.
At the rear, soldiers grab the “spade” handle and fire it using a butterfly trigger. They need to be careful however: There’s no safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge (Some variants have been fielded which feature a positive safety selector).
While it’s most often mounted to vehicles in a rotating turret …
… Ma Deuce can also be found on the side of helicopters.
And with the use of a tripod, it can also be fired very effectively from the ground.
Correction: This post was updated with new information to reflect the fielding of the M2A1 variant and other versions, which feature safety selectors, and don’t require the need for adjustments to headspace and timing.
A New York military aviation researcher got more than she bargained for on a dream trip to a battle-scarred South Pacific island — the chance to help solve the mystery of an American soldier listed as missing in action from World War II.
Donna Esposito, who works at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in upstate Glenville, visited Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands this spring and was approached by a local man who knew of WWII dog tags and bones found along a nearby jungle trail. The man asked if Esposito could help find relatives of the man named on the tags: Pfc. Dale W. Ross.
After she returned home, Esposito found that Ross had nieces and nephews still living in Ashland, Oregon. A niece and a nephew accompanied Esposito on her late July return to Guadalcanal, where they were given his dog tags and a bag containing the skeletal remains.
Although it’s not certain yet the remains are the missing soldier’s, the nephew who made the Guadalcanal trip is confident they will be a match.
“It’s Uncle Dale. I have no doubt,” said Dale W. Ross, who was named after his relative.
The elder Ross, a North Dakota native whose family moved to southern Oregon, was the third of four brothers who fought in WWII. Assigned to the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, he was listed as MIA in January 1943, during the final weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign. He was last seen in an area that saw heavy fighting around a Japanese-held hilltop.
When the Japanese evacuated Guadalcanal three weeks later, it was the first major land victory in the Allies’ island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.
Ross’ relatives handed the remains — about four dozen bones, including rib bones — to a team from the Pentagon agency that identifies American MIAs found on foreign battlefields. On August 7, the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Guadalcanal, an American honor guard carried a flag-draped coffin containing the bones onto a US Coast Guard aircraft.
The Pentagon said the remains were taken to Hawaii for DNA testing.
“Until a complete and thorough analysis of the remains is done by our lab, we are unable to comment on the specific case associated to the turnover,” said Maj. Jessie Romero of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The other three Ross brothers made it back home, including the oldest, Charles, who served aboard a Navy PT boat in the Solomons and visited Guadalcanal in the vain attempt to learn about his brother Dale’s fate.
Ross’ niece and nephew made their trip last month with Esposito and Justin Taylan, founder of Pacific Wrecks, a New York-based nonprofit involved in the search for American MIAs from WWII. They met the family whose 8-year-old son found the dog tags and remains. They also were taken to the spot on a slope in the jungle where the discovery was made.
“I never met this man, but I was a little emotional,” Ross, 71, said of the experience.
For Esposito, 45, finding evidence that could solve a lingering mystery in an American family’s military history is the most meaningful thing she’s ever done in her life.
“I can’t believe this has all happened,” she said. “It has been an amazing journey.”
China launched its first domestically-built Type 055 guided-missile stealth destroyer in July 2017, and since then, has added three more Type 055s to its fleet, with the last two launched in July 2018.
In regards to propulsion, Type 055s have four QC-280 gas turbines, each providing about 23-28 megawatts of energy. This large amount of energy may one day power railguns or other future weapons systems.
The Zumwalt, on the flip side, has two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines, providing the ship with 78 megawatts of energy, including 58 megawatts in reserve. This reserve power may also power railguns or high-energy lasers in the future.
USS Zumwalt transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials on April 21, 2016.
(US Navy photo)
But the Zumwalt only has 80 VLS cells, each of which have a diameter of about 2.3 feet.
The Zumwalt VLS cells can fire Tomahawk, Evolved Sea Sparrow, and other guided missiles.
It’s also equipped with two 155 mm Advanced Gun Systems on the bow, and two Mark 46 close-in guns which fire 30 mm rounds. Rounds for the AGS are so expensive, about id=”listicle-2612880833″ million apiece, that the Navy doesn’t have any and has no plans to buy them, rendering the deck guns effectively out of service.
The Zumwalt sails alonside a Littoral Combat Ship.
(US Navy photo)
Ultimately though, the two destroyers will have different mission sets.
Type 055 destroyers will focus more on air defense, anti-submarine missions and protecting carriers, which is why they have more VLS cells and a longer range than the Zumwalt. These mission sets, along with its large size, are why the US has even classified the Type 055 as a cruiser.
The Air Force today takes a ribbing from the other services for being soft, so it’s easy to forget that historically their mission has been one of the most dangerous. This was on display in World War II when Allied aircrews were tasked with bombing Nazi-occupied Germany and Imperial Japan.
In this clip, a World War II Royal Air Force veteran discusses what it was like flying bombers to Berlin through a wall of flak so thick that, as he describes it, it sounded like driving a car through a hailstorm. He also tells of the mission where their bomber was chased down by German fighters and forced to crash land.
Entering the military requires an oath to obey the lawful orders of those in the higher chain of command. Commanding officers can order troops into a suicide mission if it serves the greater purpose. When obeying orders, it’s necessary for those troops to believe a commander wouldn’t order them into harm’s way unless it was necessary, that the order serves a greater good, and it’s not an illegal order.
Most of the nine men listed here (in no order) did not disobey orders because they were illegal. They disobeyed them because lives were at stake and felt saving those lives was worth the risk. Others pushed the envelope to keep the enemy on its heels. People make mistakes, even when the stakes are life and death. It can mean the difference in the course of the entire war (as seen with Gen. Sickles) or to a few men who are alive because someone took a chance on them (in the case of Benaya Rein).
1. Dakota Meyer, U.S. Marine Corps, Afghanistan
In 2009, Meyer was at the Battle of Ganjgal, where his commander ordered him to disregard a distress call from ambushed Afghan and American troops, four of them friends, pinned down by possibly hundreds of enemy fighters. He repeatedly asked permission to drive his truck to help relieve his outnumbered and surrounded friends and allies. He and another Marine hopped in a Humvee. Meyer manned the gun while the other drove the vehicle.
They drove right into the firestorm, loading the beleaguered Afghans, mostly wounded, onto their humvee. As weapons jammed, Meyer would grab another, and another. They drove into the melee five times, until they came across Meyer’s friends, now fallen, and pulled them out too. Meyer received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
2. Daniel Hellings, British Army, Afghanistan
Hellings was on a joint patrol in Helmand Province with Afghan allies when his patrol was hit by an explosion. An improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated in an alleyway, injuring two of the patrollers. Then another went off, injuring a third man. Hellings’ commander ordered an immediate withdrawal. Instead, Hellings got down on the ground and started a fingertip search for more bombs — and found four more. He was on the ground, poking around in the dirt until he found all of the IEDs. For his bravery and quick thinking, he was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.
3. Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Army, Cold War
Petrov was in command of the Oko Nuclear Early Warning System on the morning of September 26, 1983 when it detected a probable launch of American nuclear missiles. Suspecting it was a false alarm, he disobeyed the standing order of reporting it to his commanding officers, who likely would have “retaliated” with their nuclear arsenal.
In this case, doing nothing was doing something big, as in completely averting World War III, and mutually assured destruction. It also showed a flaw in the USSR’s early warning system and helped to avert further misunderstandings.
4. Benaya Rein, Israel Defence Forces, Second Lebanon War
Several Israeli soldiers, lacking accurate maps, became lost in 2006 while downrange in Southern Lebanon. As they attempted to get their bearings, about 20 men appeared in the distance, and the commander — thinking they were Hezbollah fighters — ordered Benaya Rein to open fire.
Rein wasn’t so sure. Instead, he took a tank out to the location to investigate. When he arrived, he found 20 of his fellow IDF soldiers. “Because he refused to follow his commander’s order, the lives of these soldiers were saved,” his mother told an Israeli paper.
Rein would later be killed after the tank he was commanding was hit by a Hezbollah missile. He was one of the last Israelis killed during the war.
5. Lt. David Teich, U.S. Army, Korean War
Teich was in a tank company near the 38th parallel in 1951 when a radio distress call came in from the Eighth Ranger Company. Wounded, outnumbered, and under heavy fire, the Rangers were near Teich’s tanks, and facing 300,000 Communist troops, moving steadily toward their position. Teich wanted to help, but was ordered to withdraw instead, his captain saying “We’ve got orders to move out. Screw them. Let them fight their own battles.”
Teich went anyway. He led four tanks over to the Rangers’ position and took out so many Rangers on each tank, they covered up the tank’s turrets. He still gets letters from the troops he saved that day, thanking him for disobeying his order to move out.
6. Cpl. Desmond Doss, U.S. Army, World War II
Doss wanted to serve, he just wasn’t willing to kill to do it and refused every order to carry a weapon or fire one. However, Doss would do anything to save his men, repeatedly braving Japanese fire to pull the injured to the rear. As his unit climbed a vertical cliffside at Okinawa, the Japanese opened up with artillery, mortars, and machine guns, turning his unit back and killing or wounding 75 men. Doss retrieved them one by one, loading them onto a litter and down the cliff.
A few days later, in the mouth of a cave, he braved a shower of grenades thrown from eight yards away, dressed wounds, and made four trips to pull his soldiers out. He treated his own wounds and waited five hours for a litter to carry him off. On the way back, the three men carrying him had to take cover from a tank attack. While waiting, Doss crawled off his litter, treated a more injured man, and told the litter bearers to take the other man. While waiting for them to come back, he was hit in the arm by a sniper and crawled 300 yards to an aid station. He was the first conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor.
7. Lt. Thomas Currie ‘Diver’ Derrick, Australian Imperial Force, WWII
The Battle of Sattelberg in the Pacific nation of New Guinea was as hard-fought as any in the Pacific Theater. It took the Australians a grudgingly slow eight days to push the Japanese out of the town and they paid dearly for it. On November 24, 1943, Lt. Derrick was ordered to withdraw his platoon because the CO didn’t think he could capture the heights around Sattelberg.
Derrick’s response: “Bugger the CO. Just give me twenty more minutes and we’ll have this place.”
Derrick climbed a vertical cliff by himself, holding on with one hand and throwing grenades with the other, stopping only to fire his rifle. He cleared out 10 machine gun nests that night and forced the Japanese to withdraw. The Aussies captured Sattelberg and Derrick was awarded the Victoria Cross.
8. 1st. Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, WWI
In September 1918, Luke was grounded by his commanding officer and told that if he disobeyed, he would be charged with being AWOL. Luke, an ace with 15 aerial victories, flew anyway, going out to find military reconnaissance balloons. Balloons sound like an easy target, but they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft weapons.
He knocked out three balloons that day before he was forced down by machine gun fire. Once out of his plane (which he landed, he wasn’t shot down) he kept fighting the Germans with his sidearm until a bullet wound killed him. Luke is the first pilot to receive the Medal of Honor.
9. Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, Union Army, Civil War
Sickles’ slight disobedience to orders during the Battle of Gettysburg changed the momentum of the war and may have changed the entire history of the United States. In a move historians haven’t stopped talking about for 150 years, Sickles moved his men to Peach Orchard instead of Little Round Top, as Gen. George G. Meade ordered him. This move prompted Confederate Gen. James Longstreet to attack the Union troops in the orchard and the wheat field, nearly destroying the Union forces there. Which, admittedly, sounds terrible.
The Confederate move allowed Union troops to flank them in a counteroffensive and completely rout the Confederate forces, winning Gettysburg for the Union and ending Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North. Sickles himself lost a leg in the fighting, but received the Medal of Honor and helped preserve Gettysburg as a national historic site after the war.
The Littoral Combat Ship is often criticized for being under-armed. In fact, its main weapon for anti-surface warfare is reportedly a version of the AGM-114 Hellfire (after several false starts with other missiles). Now, don’t get us wrong. The Hellfire is a good missile, and it has made plenty of enemy tanks and terrorists go boom.
At this year’s SeaAirSpace Expo, Kongsberg and Raytheon have proposed a solution – using the Naval Strike Missile on the LCS. According to a U.S. Navy release from 2014, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) test-fired the NSM during RIMPAC 2014.
NSM offers longer range than the Hellfire (at least 100 nautical miles compare to the Hellfire’s 4.85), and a much bigger warhead (265 pounds to the Hellfire’s 20). In other words, this missile has a lot more “stopping power” against any threat the LCS could face.
But the missile is also relatively light, coming in at 770 pounds overall. The Mk 54 MAKO Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo comes in at 608 pounds. This means that the embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters on a littoral combat ship could also carry these – and Kongsberg demonstrated that with a model at the display.
“Helicopter sold separately,” the representative said, jokingly. But the joke could very well be on an adversary – as the helicopter extends the stand-off reach the LCS would have. The helicopter capability would also add the ability to launch from an offset – complicating the targeting for an enemy.
NSM is already in service with Norway, equipping the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, the Skjold-class corvettes, and is in use on Norway’s F-16 Fighting Falcons. It replaced the Penguin in Norwegian service.
Kongsberg also displayed a mock-up of the Joint Strike Missile, a slightly larger version of the NSM, featuring a range of at least 150 nautical miles. Even with the increased size, a handout provided by Kongsberg reps at SeaAirSpace 2017 indicated that the missile can still be carried internally by the F-35 Lightning II.
In one sense, this would be going “back to the future.” In the 1990s, the United States Navy equipped the SH-60B Seahawks with the AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missile – also from Kongsberg. The Penguin also was a mainstay of Norway’s military during the 1980s and 1990s.
Since late 2017, thieves have taken 10 bells or gongs from buoys floating off Maine’s coast, and now the Coast Guard is offering a reward for information about the culprits.
Six buoys where hit during the first half of 2018, and more have been swiped since then. The Coast Guard says nine bells were stolen from Penobscot Bay, and another one, the most recent, was stolen off Bailey Island in Harpswell.
The bells attached to the buoys are meant to help mariners navigate when visibility is low.
When the Coast Guard asked the public for information at the end of May 2018, Lt. Matthew Odom, the waterways management division chief for the Coast Guard in northern New England, said the thefts “not only reduce the reliability of our aids-to-navigation system and put lives at risk, but they also create a burden and expense to the taxpayer for the buoy tenders and crews responsible for maintaining the aids.”
Seaman Cory J. Hoffman and Seaman Apprentice David A. Deere with a buoy on the deck of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay in Lake Erie, Nov. 12, 2007.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William B. Mitchell)
Each stolen bell has weighed 225 pounds, according to the Portland Press Herald. The gongs, like the one stolen from the White Bull Gong buoy off Bailey Island, weigh 371 pounds. The combined weight of the stolen gear is 2,755 pounds.
A Coast Guard spokesman told the Press Herald that the service has spent about ,000 so far to replace bells and gongs that have been stolen. That doesn’t include the time and labor needed to fix and replace the equipment.
The Coast Guard says the bells are most likely being sold to nautical novelty stores or scrap yards. The service requires the bells be made of a copper-silicon alloy to resist corrosion and withstand the seawater to which they’re constantly exposed.
The stolen merchandise could be worth a lot, depending on the market for copper. Silicon bronze, which is similar to the copper alloys used in the bells and gongs, can sell for about id=”listicle-2598399878″.50 a pound, according to a scrap-metal firm in Portland. Assuming all the bells and gongs can be sold, the 2,755-pound haul could net more than ,100.
Tampering with navigation aids is a federal crime, punishable by fines up to ,000 a day or a year in prison. The Coast Guard has asked those with information about the missing devices to call the Northern New England sector command center.
The reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction can total up to half the amount of fines imposed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
President Xi Jinping said China will “fight the bloody battle against our enemies” in a speech on March 20, 2018, striking a nationalistic and hawkish tone.
In his closing speech of the country’s annual legislative meeting, Xi discussed the benefits of China’s socialism, the Belt and Road initiative, and a string of domestic policies, zeroing in on Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies … with a strong determination to take our place in the world,” Xi said, according to CNN.
Xi also said any separatist action to seek independence in these territories would be doomed to fail.
“The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence, and every capability to triumph over all these separatist actions. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China,” Xi said.
While it was not clear if China’s president was referring to any particular incident, state-run media one day earlier threatened “military pressure” and drills would resume if US and Taiwanese officials began visiting one another under the new Taiwan Travel Act.
China considers the self-ruled, democratic island to be a province of China that will one day be reunified with the mainland. Beijing refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that treats Taiwan as a country, and relations between China and Taiwan worsened since Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s independence-leaning leader, became president in 2016.
Xi, who oversees all Taiwan affairs, also focused on reunifying Taiwan and China during a major speech to the Communist Party in 2017. Analyzing that speech, some experts estimate that Xi’s is hoping for reunification by 2050 — by peaceful means, or by force, if necessary.
In 2013, Xi said the issue needed to be resolved, and couldn’t be passed on “from generation to generation.” Even still, Taiwan has noticed a tougher stance coming from Xi of late as he begins to focus on his goal of “national rejuvenation.”
Xi also focused on increasing the “national identity” and patriotism of citizens in Hong Kong and Macau.
On March 20, 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report on plans for Hong Kong legislators to discuss a law that criminalizes the insulting of the Chinese national anthem. The punishment for those who alter the lyrics, score, or sing in a derogatory manner, could be up to three years in prison.
“Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has played down fears the bill could be politicized, saying it merely aims to encourage ‘respect’ for the anthem. Yet she has not acknowledged citizens’ concerns about forcing their political loyalty to Beijing, or how mainland authorities’ frequently jail people for peaceful criticism,” Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on China.
“Enacting this law will merely remind Hong Kong people just how tenuous their rights to free speech are.”
An excerpt of Xi’s speech:
“We will continue to implement One Country, Two Systems principle: Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong, Macau people governing Macau, and a high degree of autonomy in the Special Administrative Regions (SARs). We will continue to stick to the constitution and basic laws in governing the two regions and support the SARs and its chief executives in implementing its functions and supporting Hong Kong and Macau in integrating into the larger picture of the country.
We will continue to strengthen and foster the national identity and patriotism of people in Hong Kong and Macau SARs and maintain long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong and Macau SARs.
We should continue to stick to the One China principle, 1992 consensus, advance the development of cross-strait relations, and expand the economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides. By doing so, we will make sure that people both in Taiwan and the mainland will share in the development and improve its well-being and also advance the unification of the country.
We should safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and achieve full reunification of the motherland. This is the aspiration of all Chinese people and this is also in line with the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation. Faced with this very important question of our nation and history, any action that aims to separate the country is doomed to fail.
And these separatist actions will be met with the condemnation of the people and the punishment of the history. The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence and every capability to triumph over all these separatist actions. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China.”
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.
Air Force officials have been warning about the force’s dire pilot shortage, and a recent Government Accountability Office report illustrates just how bad the shortfall has gotten.
The report assesses the gaps between the actual number of fighter pilots that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have and the number of positions they are authorized to have.
Each service branch reported fighter-pilot shortages that have grown worse in recent years. “Service officials attributed these gaps to aircraft readiness challenges, reduced training opportunities, and increased attrition of fighter pilots due to career dissatisfaction,” the report says.
The Air Force had at least 92% of its fighter-pilot positions filled between 2006 and 2010, an 8% gap, and 104% of what it needed in 2011, a 4% surplus. But the gap has grown since 2012 and is currently the biggest of the three military branches, at 27%.
The Air Force, which has undertaken a number of training and retention initiatives, projected its shortfall to last through fiscal year 2023.
Growing shortfalls and falling retention
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Each branch has different levels at which the difference between authorized positions and actual staff levels becomes a shortage. Air Force officials told the GAO that “their established practice is that pilot communities with less than 100 percent of authorizations are considered to be insufficiently staffed.”
Changing authorization levels led to an excess in some Air Force career fields in 2011, but an increase in authorized positions in the past few years has led to a growing shortfall among fighter pilots — from 192, or 5% of authorized positions, that year to 1,005, or 27% of authorized positions, in 2017. (The Air Force said at the end of 2017 that its total shortage was “around 2,000” pilots.)
“According to briefing documents prepared by the Air Force, this gap is concentrated among fighter pilots with fewer than 8 years of experience,” the report notes.
Air Force officials told the GAO that between 2006 and 2017, “fighter pilot gaps were generally limited to non-operational positions, such as staff assignments at Air Force headquarters or combatant commands.”
But the GAO also found that the Air Force had been unable to fill all its operational positions since fiscal year 2014, with the gap between the operational positions it needed to fill and the actual staffing levels it had growing from 39 pilots, or 1% of authorizations, in 2014 to 399 pilots, or 13%, in 2017.
Several factors have contributed to these shortfalls, in particular reductions to overall active-duty military end strength.
Service officials said that personnel reductions after the 2008 drawdown in Iraq and cuts to funding stemming from the 2011 Budget Control Act both helped reduce the number of fighter pilots in the military.
The Air Force shed 206 fighter pilots in order to meet initial demand for pilots of unmanned aerial systems in 2011 and 2012 and then lost 54 more to early-retirement incentives in 2014 and 2015. That was compounded by changes to force structure — the decline in active and reserve Air Force fighter squadrons from 134 in 1989 to 55 in 2017 has reduced the opportunities newly trained pilots have to gain flying experience.
These factors have helped create a bottleneck in the Air Force’s training pipeline. The service has more pilots entering than it has resources to train. According to the GAO report, between 2006 and 2017 the Air Force trained 12% fewer new fighter pilots than its target amount.
“Fighter pilots told us that the need to prioritize the staffing of experienced pilots to deploying squadrons has limited the number of experienced personnel available to train newer pilots at home stations,” the report says.
A fighter pilot needs about five years of training to be qualified to lead flights, which costs between about $3 million to $11 million depending on the type of aircraft they’re being trained to fly, according to Air Force officials.
Those training issues are exacerbated by the reduction in aircraft, as longer maintenance times for legacy aircraft, like the F-16 or F-15, leave fewer aircraft available for training. (A shortage of maintainer crew members has also hamstrung the Air Force, though it has made progress adding more of those personnel.)
The services have also struggled to retain pilots.
The GAO found that the number of Air Force pilots signing retention contracts fell from 63% in 2013 to 35% in 2017 — despite the service increasing its maximum aviation bonus contract to $225,000 at the start of 2013, which was the highest amount offered by any of the military service branches.
Officials from the service branches told the GAO they had used various tactics to address their pilot shortfalls, including longer and more frequent deployments, putting senior pilots in junior positions, and “prioritizing staffing fighter pilots to flying positions that require fighter pilot-specific technical skills.”
The service branches has also tried to compensate for fighter-pilot shortages by drawing on pilots from other career fields.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
The Air Force, for example, has drawn on mobility pilots — those that fly cargo and refueling aircraft — to fill instructor roles for basic training to free up fighter pilots for duties elsewhere.
But fliers and squadron leaders told the GAO that these measures have had deleterious effects. Pilots and squadron leaders also said that some of these efforts to mitigate pilot shortages had helped drive down retention
A high operational tempo has limited the opportunities senior pilots have to train with junior pilots, which in turn limits the opportunities the service branches have to grow the number of pilots with specific qualifications. This also cuts into the services’ ability to rebuild readiness. Air Force officials said “high deployment rates … have resulted in less time for squadrons to complete their full training requirements because high deployment rates mean that there are fewer aircraft available for training at home stations.”
Moreover, increasing individual deployments undercut family stability, pilots said, affecting satisfaction with their careers.
The Air Force has taken steps to mitigate the effects the pilot shortage has had on pilots’ quality of life.
It has stood up teams dedicated to finding and implementing dozens of initiatives to reduce the fighter-pilot shortage.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
“For example, as the result of one initiative, 126 contractors have been placed in fighter squadrons to assist with administrative tasks and reduce workload for fighter pilots,” the GAO notes.
Air Force training squadrons have also taken steps to better apportion resources, including consolidating instructors among training units and altering the training process and syllabus, according to a February 2018 report by Aviation Week, but those shifts still put a strain on pilots and aircraft and represented “a leap into the unknown” for the units.
The GAO report also noted that the service branches had not reevaluated fighter-squadron requirements to reflect change conditions, the increased workload, and the effects of the increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Air Force officials told us that metrics that inform squadron requirements … have not been increased because the Air Force is instead prioritizing the effort to recapitalize its fleet of fighter aircraft,” the report said, adding that officials said they were also reassessing fighter-pilots’ nonoperational requirements, focusing on finding which ones could be reassigned to other pilots.
The report made recommendations for each branch, advising the Air Force to reevaluate those squadron requirements, “to include updating current assumptions of fighter pilot workload, and assessing the impact of future incorporation of [unmanned aerial systems] platforms into combat aviation.”
The USS Harry S. Truman is celebrating the work of its crew after setting the record for ordnance dropped on ISIS. The Trumanlaunched over 1,118 ordinance pieces against terrorist targets over the past five months, surpassing the 1,085 dropped by the USS Theodore Roosevelt‘s pilots in 2015.
The Truman’s Carrier Air Wing 7 flew 1,407 combat sorties and dropped over 580 tons of ordnance on the Islamic State.
“Since our arrival in the Arabian Gulf, the Truman Strike Group has been conducting operations around the clock,” Capt. Ryan B. Scholl, Truman’s commanding officer, told a Navy journalist. “This deployment is busier than any other I’ve seen. Every Sailor is doing great work individually and executing as a combat team to reach this milestone. It is due to this dedication as a combined force that Truman is making a significant difference fighting for our country.”
The bombing missions by the Navy and Air Force, in addition to raids by the Army’s Delta Force and artillery strikes by the U.S. Marine Corps, have weakened ISIS and helped allied ground forces push them back. The strikes have been moving so quickly that the Pentagon has warned of shortages of bombs.
Meanwhile, the Navy has also hit ISIS targets with cruise missiles when necessary.
And strikes alone can not wipe out the terrorist organization. A January piece from the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out that ISIS had about 30,000 fighters when airstrikes began and had lost 20,000 fighters to strikes by Jan. 2016. Still, their total number of fighters hovered somewhere around 30,000 due to the presence of new recruits.